View Masters Part 2 — Unlikely observation deck experiences
In Observation Decks Part 1, we discussed our best practices for creating successful observation deck experiences. In Part 2, we’re exploring the creative lengths that towers and highrises are going to create differentiated attractions in an increasingly busy market.
As we addressed in Part 1, in the world’s largest cities such as New York, London or Tokyo, competition is heating up amongst observation decks. Whereas the Empire State Building used to be the main observation deck experience in New York City, for example, it is now vying for tourists’ attention with Top of the Rock, One World Observatory, and the upcoming One Vanderbilt and Hudson Yards. Market studies have shown that observation decks experiences, as designed today, are almost exclusively tourist experiences. Each tower is trying to get the largest share of the tourist market possible, but how can they differentiate themselves?
“We’re working five to ten years ahead on long-term projects, so we have to go beyond what already exists on the market.”
“When considering the alternate programming for a space, we always consider what it means if an activity is positioned 800 metres up in the air.”
Creative Director & Head of Interactive Design
At its core, any observation deck experience is built around an impressive view. With this in mind, we’re developing an expertise in designing experiences that augment this sensation of being up high, rather than distracting from it. Installing an arcade in an observation deck, for example, only makes sense if the view is part of the game, where you’re shooting at virtual spaceships within the real skyline. Otherwise, you’re taking away from the core experience. Some successful features that we’re starting to see pop up in towers internationally include experiences where visitors test the limits of their vertigo by climbing onto retractable glass ledges, stairs or balconies. Here are some renderings of ideas that we’re exploring.
“The psychological aspect of going up a skyscraper and being up high can’t be underestimated. It puts you in a different mood.”
“The fact that we’re living in the Instagram era is something that we consider when designing — with the goal of creating experiences that will produce spectacular selfies that visitors will want to share.”
Another strong trend in tower design, parallel yet distinct from getting a bigger share of the tourist market, is the growth of sustainable, mixed-use, community-driven architecture. As big cities become denser, average citizens are less and less likely to have access to sun and green spaces. Sunshine management on the streets below has been a factor in urban planning for decades. As engineering has allowed us to build higher — in terms of construction capabilities, structure, and larger panes of glass, we’re starting to see a greater mix of programming at the top of buildings. Some cities are pushing the inclusion of free observation decks as requirements in new development projects. In this sense, they become more like a public park rather than an attraction. These new initiatives are challenging current business models and the overall missions for these spaces.
A great example of one such project is the new Bedrock building currently under construction in Detroit, which is looking beyond the tourist market as a business model, including community-driven installations and experiences.
“It has to be a compelling space for a local to visit more than once—more in the spirit of a publicly accessible space, like a park or a restaurant.”
Creative Director & Head of Interactive Design
In this case, the observation deck is being developed for something much broader than just paying to the see the view. According to ArchPaper, “the $900 million project will include well over 300 residential units in the 58-story tower, which sits next to an additional 12-story mixed-use building. The ground level of the lower building will include a large market and exhibition space, along with other retail and civic spaces.” The challenge in a project such as this would be to have the observation deck experience match the diversity and interest of the street-level installations, with could potentially feature gardens, markets, a brewery, or even a bee farm.
The Sky Garden in London similarly features a free green space with great views, as well as a number of restaurants and bars. Another example of a mixed-use building is the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, where they added a green rooftop garden in an effort to reduce their environmental impact, and for the novelty of being able to serve locally grown produce in their restaurant.
We’re curious to see how the market develops in the next five to years as cities pass bylaws about mandatory public space in highrises. What impact this will have on the market for commercial observation deck experiences? No matter the outcome, with constraints often leading to more creativity, we’re excited to develop new ideas for both tourist or local markets. In our backyard in Montreal for example, we’re looking forward to seeing how the upcoming $200-million renovation of the Place Ville Marie Esplanade, including a new restaurant and beer garden, will bring some new vitality to downtown when it opens in 2019.